Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Residents up in arms over Landry/Walker merger, Mays closure

24th June 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

Local residents are in an uproar over recent actions by the Recovery School District to close Benjamin Mays Elementary Charter School in the 9th Ward and merge O. Perry Walker High School and L.B. Landry High School in Algiers.

On June 18, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Edu­cation (BESE) voted 6-4 to allow the planned merger of O. Perry Walker and L.B. Landry to proceed this summer. Parents of students at Mays were told in December of the school’s impending closure.

Many members of the New Orleans community journeyed to Tuesday’s BESE meeting to voice their objections. Regarding Mays, parents questioned a budget shortfall at the school. Records provided by the Recovery School District indicate that there were discrepancies between budgeted funds and actual funds (a web link to records obtained from the RSD will be available when the story posts online at louisianaweekly.com).

The plan involving O. Perry Walker and L.B. Landry is to merge the former’s higher-rated academic program with the latter’s new building. A staff report from the Recovery School District indicated that renovations to Walker’s building would cost $35 million dollars. Landry’s proponents argued that, since it only reopened in 2010, it should’ve been give more time to improve its academic scores.

But this isn’t enough of a justification for Algiers residents. Regarding the two high schools, there are legacy concerns. Some objected to merging L.B. Landry, which is named after a prominent African-American physician who ran a free clinic, with O. Perry Walker, which is named after a slave owner.

Pat Bryant, co-moderator of Justice and Beyond (a coalition of various community groups), described the meeting as “rather contentious.” Bryant said the community members objected to both the logic and the tone of State Superintendent of Education John White.

“He was talking down to people,” Bryant said.

White described the decision to merge the two Algiers schools as a matter of equity, that it wasn’t fair to overload Algiers with schools. Community members bristled at White’s use of the term equity.

“Equity would require them to give funds to renovate Walker…Equity would’ve been to leave both schools on their own to prosper,” Bryant said.

Bryant also noted a racial tinge to the BESE board vote. The four votes opposing the merger were two African-American women and two white women. The six votes in favor of the merger were cast by three white men and three white women.

Despite Tuesday’s vote, Bryant said his organization and the community have no plans to stop fighting. While he was not ready to divulge specifics, he mentioned legal and community organizing options.

“We’re not through with this yet,” Bryant said. “This was just another fight in a long struggle.”

This article originally published in the June 24, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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